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Russia Now Disputes 'Times' Report On Olympic Doping


Russia now says, no, it does not admit to a vast doping conspiracy involving its Olympic athletes. This denial follows yesterday's New York Times article in which a Russian anti-doping official was quoted as saying indeed there was an institutional conspiracy. It was the first such admission to come out of Russia. The New York Times is standing by its story.

Joining us to discuss this foggy situation is NPR's Tom Goldman. Hey, Tom.


SHAPIRO: So yesterday's Times story seemed like a breakthrough. After months of denying reports of widespread doping, Russia finally said, yes, it happened. And now the Russians are backtracking. What are they saying today?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, the woman who's the acting head of RUSADA - that's the Russian Anti-Doping Agency - she says her quotes in the article were taken out of context. They were changed by The New York Times reporter. She says she was merely quoting from the second part of the McLaren report. Now, that was the report released earlier this month. It provided lots of evidence and facts showing widespread doping in Russia from 2011 to 2015.

And the report uses the language - and I'm quoting here - "an institutional conspiracy existed across summer and winter sports athletes." The head of RUSADA says she was just quoting that and not asserting it herself. And in fact, RUSADA said in a statement - and I'm quoting here - "it does not have and cannot have the authority to admit or deny such facts." And the whole thing is under investigation in Russia.

SHAPIRO: How does The New York Times respond to that?

GOLDMAN: Well as you mentioned, sticking by its story, the reporter says all the quotes were accurate.

SHAPIRO: So then what is the impact of Russia essentially going back to where it was before yesterday's Times article, rejecting any notion that the doping was widespread or state-sponsored or, as the McLaren report says, an institutional conspiracy?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, basically a glimmer of good will appears to be lost. You know, there was a feeling by those in the anti-doping community that even though Russians were still disputing the state-sponsored element of the doping allegations - and there's a lot of evidence to show it was state-sponsored - they were making an admission in the Times article, and that could help put them in a better light and help them get back into the fold of international sport.

Remember, Ari; the Russians had been pariahs recently in sport. Athletes were banned from both the Olympics and the Paralympics in Rio. There have been events taken away from Russia this month. There are proceedings underway right now to determine whether more than two dozen Russian athletes who competed in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 were doping and need to be sanctioned. So with today's denial, it seems to reaffirm Russian sports' pariah status.

SHAPIRO: Why would this Russian official backtrack, especially if yesterday's article seemed to put them in a better light?

GOLDMAN: Far be it for me to know what goes on in the mind of Russian officials, Ari.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: You know, the Russians truly feel aggrieved by this doping story. Now, in The New York Times article yesterday, one of the officials quoted brings up the Fancy Bear computer hacking incident of several years.

SHAPIRO: This is a Russian group of hackers.

GOLDMAN: Yes, exactly, and the hacking revealed this widespread use of exemptions by many of the world's athletes, including Americans - basically athletes getting the OK to use banned drugs because of medical conditions. Now, these exemptions are legal, but the Russians believe those exemptions allowed all those athletes to cheat, and the Russians simply needed to stay up with all of the people they call cheaters.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.